Kent Johnson

[Note: An approximate version of this poem was published on January 1, 2010, at Mayday Magazine. Looking for something else, I stumbled upon it about a week ago. I had completely forgotten about the piece. I went about revising the poem and thought it would be timely to publish it here, at Sulphur [Surrealist Jungle], on January 1, 2021. Its disquiets are still perfectly topical, eleven years on.]

When the crazy tracers, the first time, went crazy-up over Baghdad, it was all so stunning (against the grainy green), and we were dying to giggle, and we did—just a bit of tittering. And then the buildings on video started exploding, it got sort of hard to keep from chortling. Astounding, shouted the naïve crowd in Sadr, how the young beauty, Mlle Khalil, sawed in half, could still be smiling! We laughed and cheered the magician, and went to bed, soundly sleeping.

When the daisy cutters went plop-plopping across Helmand, sending the intestines of Mme Balkhi flying, it was stupefying. We chuckled a lot because it was amazing and, really, the bitches had it coming. Surely the wedding caravan in Ghazni will comprehend our merrymaking, even if the comprehending is taking a while in arriving: Even the lowbrow well-know the feeling that gives rise to giggling when an Imam is preaching.

When Shock and Awe happened, March Madness was just starting; we were dipping in guac and goat cheese, avidly. Softly we pressed the goop into the mouths of our poesy precursors, eagerly licking what the dead codgers regurgitated, gagging. Drinks, at halftime, were flowing. Some of us had protested, gravely, the imperial planning, and there we were, covering our teeth, suppressing our snickering, it was pretty amazing. “There goes M. al-Yussuf’s head, flying!” cried the Poets Against the War poet, who was always inappropriately joking.

When Gaza came it was kind of different, though still sort of corresponding. We strained hard to see, through all the understandable censoring. Still, imagining can be peachy, even make the show extra fascinating. Mlle Abbas’s small breast in our lap, landing on the chips, like some gewgaw from Sabra, was certainly nauseating; but we’d be lying if we didn’t admit this was also awkwardly amusing! All in all, the wacky combination was troubling, and this time we said “Excuse me” and went to the bathroom, where we cracked up in private, evacuating.

When the Dem POTUS saw the Top Secret torture photos, he couldn’t stop nervously laughing. His laughter was contagious, and it spread to all the buildings; even we, who couldn’t see them (the photos), started, to our horror, chuckling. Because we could just imagine–like in that Oscar-winning movie, with the big centipede coming out the mouth of the Bedouin—I mean, how could you keep from tee-heeing? And so the President said, “No way José am I releasing these snuff-flick stills…Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince would go rabble-rousing!” And he went into the Lincoln Bedroom and wrung his hands, his mouth wide-opening, so the sound wouldn’t be forthcoming, which would have been embarrassing. And we twittered and fidgeted and forgave our drone-smitten POTUS, because we are progressive and self-forgiving. 

When we dropped the Little Boy on Hiroshima, there was much rejoicing. Our hot moms and dads danced and laughed, because the Nips really had it coming. And who could blame their laughing? They were tired of war, and who wants more killing? Plus, tiny Fumiko looked hilarious there, her face peeling off and everything, and we, the kids, sometimes wake in the dark laughing and shouting. “What the hell?” the one beside us is snorting. “Oh, it’s nothing, ma chérie, I was only dreaming I was laughing at the wrong time, and it was mortifying.”

Which is only human, it goes without saying: Even William Carlos Williams is writing, “The day after the atomic blast! —the poor Jews who accomplished it. Now we’ll hate them worse than ever.” And he, too, saintly pediatrician, is barely repressing his sniggering. Pound, bonkers, ripostes: “Stop e-mailing me, Bill. I’m no longer even speaking.”

[Note: WCW’s quote is from a letter to Byron Vazakas, August 7, 1945. The reply by Pound is poetic license.]

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